Stroke, Sleep Apnea and Survival
I knew it, too, when the doctor confirmed it.
I woke up June 27, 2018, primed to get ready for work. My knee gave out when I was walking the short distance from my bed to the bathroom. I also noticed that my left arm and shoulder felt weak and heavy. It was a very odd feeling, and I knew something was wrong.
I got back in bed and tried to fall back asleep. I hoped I'd feel better with more rest.
The weakness was still there. But I still drove to work. I still ordered my coffee. I still went to that big meeting. Then I tried to type.
I couldn't type properly.
My symptoms were all on the left side. I knew what it was.
So there I was, 42, calling my mom to tell her I was going to an acute care center because I knew something was wrong. I texted my sister, a nurse, and we went over stroke protocol. All I had was the left-side weakness. But I knew that meant I'd had a stroke on the right side of my brain. I'm WebMd-neurotic like that.
At the acute care center, my blood pressure was through the roof. It was considered a hypertensive crisis. Soon after, I was whisked off to a hospital in an ambulance.
My parents, siblings, grandparents and friends quickly rushed to my side in the ER. I kept asking my sister if I was going to die. It was surreal and scary.
I had a barrage of tests over the next three days. EKG. Normal. Echocardiogram. Normal. Ultrasound. Chest X-ray. TEE. Normal. Normal. Normal.
The MRI confirmed the stroke. It happened in my sleep. It was considered "minor" (but is there ever such a thing as a "minor" stroke?). They told me I was too young to have a stroke. Yep, I know. But what caused it?
It wasn't until after seeing a neurologist and then a cardiologist a few weeks later, and wearing a Holter monitor that revealed bradycardia in my sleep, that we found the problem: Sleep Apnea. Yes, sleep apnea caused my stroke.
So where am I now, three months later? Each day is different. Getting dressed is sometimes tough because my stroke arm decides to cramp up. Or my stroke leg feels stiff after sitting for a couple of hours. Oh, and I tend to walk too slow ... but I DID finish a 5k at work recently (almost last place, but whatever. What an accomplishment!).
I've "graduated" from physical and occupational therapy. I'm still working on my balance. My left side, especially my arm, is hyper-reflexive. I can tell you funny stories of spilling wine on myself because of my "stupid left arm" or spilling my dinner all over the stove because of that arm. I can laugh about those things.
I have a CPAP machine and finally don't feel exhausted all day. That's great!
What else? Lack of emotions. Most of the time, I feel no extremes in terms of happiness or sadness or anger or ... anything, really. This can be very frustrating. Sometimes I just want to cry … and I just can’t.
I know I'll continue to get stronger, physically and emotionally, as time goes on. What matters is I'm still here. And I share my story whenever I can, because if I can save one person from having a stroke due to undiagnosed sleep apnea, then this will all have been worth it.